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What is the Ka'Aba?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Ka'aba is an ancient Arabic shrine located in Mecca. It is thought to be the holiest place on earth for the people of Islam, and when people pray toward Mecca, they specifically pray toward the direction of the Ka'aba. Thus Arabs in Mecca north of the shrine would direct their prayers south.

Before Islam, the Ka'aba was an important shrine, and perhaps a source of pilgrimage for many in the Arabic world. Since people often worshiped local gods, the inside of the shrine usually had statues or idols designated to their specific gods. When Muhammad began to preach, one of his teachings was that the Ka'aba was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael, the son to which Islam claims descendancy.

Since the Ka'aba was built by the prophet Abraham, also called Ibrahim in Islam, it was meant to be a place for Islamic worship of Allah only, according to Muslim doctrine. When Muhammad first began to preach in Mecca, he advocated for removal of the other idols in the shrine, an unpopular theme. The idols were not thrown out until Muhammad returned to Mecca after exile in Medina.

Of particular interest in the Ka'aba, to certain Islamic sects, is a black cornerstone surrounded by silver. To some Muslims, the stone is merely a point of reference in counting the ritual circling of the Ka'aba during the Hajj. Others believe the stone was discovered by Abraham and Ishmael, and specifically placed there. It is known that many prior to the advent of Islam worshiped the stone. Some Islamic sects still revere it, as having been important to Muhammad and perhaps once kissed by him.

The Ka'aba is nearly cube like in shape, and the name derives from the Arabic word for cube muka'ab. Excluding the black stone, the shrine is made from granite and stands about 49 feet (14.93 m) high. Each corner corresponds with the compass directions of north, south, east and west. There is evidence the Ka'aba has been rebuilt numerous times. Some believe it may have been rebuilt when Muhammad was a boy. The black stone was stolen in 930 CE, and was not returned until 952 CE.

Today, the Ka'aba is typically covered with a black silk cloth embroidered with gold thread. Each year the cloth is replaced. Two times a year the shrine undergoes an official cleaning. One of these cleanings occurs just before the Hajj, and the other occurs before Ramadan.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon281267 — On Jul 23, 2012

I agree. Muhammad's teachings seem to be based on redirecting people from worshiping Jesus as a God and the worship of idols yet this stone is being worshiped and held holy just as Muhammad is -- a total contradiction.

I myself always thought God was being overlooked and replaced by Jesus in the Christian faith, which made me feel uncomfortable. So I'm looking into Islam, but finding the same thing happens with the prophet Muhammad.

I believe its your heart and soul and not your religion that is most important. I do believe Jesus came from God, but only to bring us back to God, and so if this is the same with Muhammad it also has been distorted. The evil one is always distorting the truth. I pray that our eyes will be opened.

By anon139146 — On Jan 03, 2011

The cube signifies idol worship to the moon god. If Islam has no idols then this is proof that indeed there is idol worship. If god or allah is everywhere then why does anyone need to pray in that direction? --apzp

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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